Normally, It’s the Name on Top that Matters

Shortly after Sarah Palin’s nomination to be the running mate of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, she noted that Hillary Clinton had cracked the glass ceiling and now it was time for that glass ceiling to be broken, seeming to place herself in line as the “next Hillary Clinton.” Commentators soon prompted Democratic VP candidate Joe Biden that he should say: “I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. You are no Hillary Clinton.”

This statement, of course, is an adaptation of a quote from the 1988 vice presidential debate when Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen (running mate of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis) skewered Senator Dan Quayle (running mate to George H.W. Bush) when Quayle compared his own Congressional experience to being at least as robust as that of Jack Kennedy. Bentsen responded: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy.”

Though Quayle could never out-run his reputation of being incompetent, it is important to remember that though Bentsen may have outwitted him in the vice presidential debate, Quayle had the last laugh in November. Bush won a landslide victory over Dukakis. Victory at the debate table or victory at the polls? We know which matters.

So this brings us to Thursday night’s debate with an interesting agenda. On one hand, it doesn’t really matter who “wins” the debate but on the other hand, it matters a great deal who we think would be better prepared to lead the country if necessary.

Eight vice presidents have had to replace a sitting president because of death; one has stepped in when a president has been forced to resign (see below for the complete list). This means that the American public has a one in five chance that the 2008 vice presidential candidate may have to unexpectedly step in to serve as president.

When you watch Biden-Palin match-up Thursday night, don’t watch for the most artful debater or clap for the candidate who creates the best sound bite. Look for the person who seems solid, well-versed in the issues, and capable of good judgment under extreme pressure–the person who might be best prepared to answer that 3 a.m. phone call. Our decision on November 4 will matter a great deal.

Here is the list of vice presidents who stepped in for sitting presidents:

John Tyler became President when William Harrison died.
Millard Fillmore became President when Zachary Taylor died.
Andrew Johnson became President when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Chester A. Arthur became President when James Garfield was assassinated.
Theodore Roosevelt became President when William McKinley was assassinated.
Calvin Coolidge became President when Warren Harding died.
Harry S. Truman became President when Franklin D. Roosevelt died.
Lyndon B. Johnson became President when John F. Kennedy was assassinated
Gerald Ford took over after Nixon resigned.

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